Jan. 24, 2003 - The Age: King of Queens
by Jo Roberts
Josh Homme works hard and plays hard, and fans of his band appreciate his efforts. By Jo Roberts.

‘I had a bit of trouble in Melbourne,’ recalls Josh Homme of his last visit to Australia. Most people wouldn’t think so, had they seen the 2001 Melbourne debut of the hulking singer-guitarist-songwriter’s band, Queens of the Stone Age. An incendiary sold out show at the Corner Hotel (made more auspicious by bass player Nick Oliveri wearing nothing but shoes), followed the next day by an equally authoritative set at the Big Day Out. Paint-peeling loud, irresistibly melodic, and so, so powerful. The big hit from their then new Rated R album, Feel Good Hit of the Summer, had become just that, the anthemic centrepiece of two muscular, epic shows that never let up.

But in between those two shows was ‘the bit of trouble’, apparent only if you were close enough to see the occasional wince from Homme – and the swollen hand causing it – during the Queens’ BDO set.

It happened the night before, while the band kicked on at a club after their Corner show.

‘I actually fractured my hand on someone’s face,’ says Homme from his Palm Springs, California, home. ‘Some guy took a swing at me. I dunno – he thought I was being cocky and I was just trying to be nice and buy him a drink because some drinks got spilt – I guess that wasn’t enough. I haven’t started many fights, but I’ve finished a whole shitload of them.’

Apart from that incident, Homme’s memories of Australia are all good. ‘I can’t wait,’ he says of returning to play the 2003 Big Day Out, which he hopes will include some scuba-diving off the Gold Coast.

‘It’s the Big Day Off! I’m excited to come back there. I won’t be in my hotel room very much. Australia’s always been a place we’re always trying to get to. Any country whose national saying is ‘no worries’, I’m like: ‘Well shit, let’s start off there.’ It’s not hard to convince us to go there.’

Safe to say the band has plenty of fans here, but it has also always distinguished itself by being a musicians’ band: the sort of band other players admire. At the 2001 Melbourne Big Day Out after party, a member of Sydney band Nitocris, also on the tour, came up to Homme and knelt before him. ‘Do you know who this guy is?’ she exclaimed. ‘This guy is God.’

Homme was clearly embarrassed at the time (you could see the red flush rise up his face to nearly match his ginger hair), but laughs when reminded of the incident.

‘Yeah, that’s totally unnecessary, seeing as I’m a debaucherous bum. It’s like praying the god of, uh, overindulgence,’ he chuckles.

But this is the sort of adulation Homme has earnt during his musical career that has now taken up more than half of his life, from his first band Kyuss (at Kyuss shows, fans would call out, ‘Josh is God’) to Queens of the Stone Age.

If the Queens impressed fans last time they were here, on the back of a fine second album, 2000’s Rated R, then we can only begin to imagine what the band has in store this time around, following last year’s release of an even better third album, Songs For The Deaf. The band have been touring more solidly since May, and, says Homme, ‘hopefully forever’.

Whatever the Queens do, they do hard. Now 29, Homme laughs at the suggestion that his lifestyle might change once he reaches the other side of 30. ‘I’m sorry, that’s just not gonna happen. I just work hard and play hard. It sound stupid, but it’s true.’

Homme has been playing and living that way since he was 14 when he began Kyuss with the 16 year old Oliveri. The band still has a cult following for its lush, low-end hypnotic rock drone, which earnt it the label ‘stoner rock’, cultivated at generator parties in the Palm Springs desert of California.

Somehow the music of Kyuss sounded exactly like its birthplace: enormous, beautiful yet threatening, always with a growl at its core. Of growing up in the desert, Homme says there was ‘a kind of vastness that has a way of making you feel small, but in a sweet way; it’s sort of like a bittersweet feeling, y’know?’

The Palm Springs desert became a magnet for player and fans of music alike. Hundreds of kids, hungry for live music in a place where there was virtually none (save the odd visit by touring acts such as Black Flag), would go out and dance in the swirling sand at the generator parties where Kyuss were born.

‘With nowhere to play and no venue to go to, you go outside and grab a generator,’ says Homme. ‘It was great because everyone gets their music for free. It’s not about making money or getting chicks or something, y’know what I mean? It’s for music’s sake.’

In 1992 the teenage Kyuss had just released their second album, Blues For The Red Sun, and were invited to tour Australia with Metallica. It was Homme’s first visit to Australia. ‘We had a fantastic tour there,’ he recalls. ‘We played Sydney for the first show and didn’t know what to expect. We opened with this song called Thumb and the entire floor jumped straight up and down. And that was our first experience seeing anything that vast and that favourable y’know? We were sorta like, ‘What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?’

By the time Homme was 18 or 19, Oliveri has left Kyuss to play in punk band the Dwarves. Two more albums followed before Homme became disillusioned, due in no small part to Iggy Pop, he told LA Weekly last year.

‘I heard Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life and The Idiot for the first time. And then I heard the Stooges records. And those records said everything I wanted to say better than I could say it. It made me want to quit. So, I did.’

Apart from Iggy Pop, Homme refused to listen to any other music while he was in Kyuss, besides the records he already had, such as Black Flag, GBH, Discharge, Subhumans and Johnny Cash.

‘We didn’t want to influenced by anyone but ourselves,’ says Homme. ‘I think what we picked up from bands like Black Flag is ‘We’re doing our own thing’ and true inspiration is ‘be inspired by us doing our own thing by doing your own thing.’ I think that’s why we’ve always searched not to sound like anyone else.’

Kyuss disbanded in 1995. After that, Homme went to Seattle and played guitar with friend Mark Lanegan in Lanegan’s band the Screaming Trees. But by 1997 Homme’s calling was reawakened. He again hooked up with Oliveri and the duo formed Queens of the Stone Age. The band took its name, says 31 year old Oliveri, form producer Chris Goss’ (Masters of Reality) nickname for them during the 1991 recording of Blues For The Red Sun. ‘he used to joke around with us when we were kids We’d get stoned or whatever and he’d say ‘you guys are like the Queens of the Stone Age.’ And it’s just a cool name. If we were Kings of the Stone Age we’d have to wear armour and work out and rub oil on our skin and that’s not cool at all. That’s really lame.’

Mark Lanegan has remained a musical collaborator of Homme’s, more so since the disbanding of the Screaming Trees. He guested on the Rated R album and became a fully fledged member for the recording and touring of Songs For The Deaf, as a vocalist and second guitarist. Homme says the addition of Lanegan to the band has been fantastic.

‘We’re great friends and he’s one of the best singers in the world, so it’s good to have him with us.’

Indeed it was something of a dream-team Homme assembled for the recording of SFTD, having a trademark army of guests involved in the recording, the most notable apart from Lanegan being Foo Fighter Dave Grohl on drums.

‘I was a blast for me,’ says Homme. ‘It allowed us to go as far as we wanted to go.’ That including making the most of having three of the finest voices in rock at his disposal: his own, Lanegan’s and Grohl’s, making SFTD a more harmony-driven outing than Rated R. (So much so, it’s not surprising when Homme reveals he’d had a picture of Brian Wilson on his amp for two years.)

‘There’s a lot of good voices here and there were a lot of great harmony opportunities, y’know?’

Another surprise on SFTD was to hear Nick Oliveri break away from his usual punk scream to sweetly sing Another Love Song; so sweetly, I thought it was in fact sung by Grohl. Homme is chuffed to correct me.

‘Part of the other thing we like to do is, the only reason to build a pattern is to destroy it, and I think people think Nick can only scream, that’s the pattern that’s established. So nothing feels better than breaking it.

‘I think this need to start with our satisfaction. We need to love it to try to stay one step ahead of whoever’s into it and thinks they know what we’re gonna do. So I think we need to be constantly ahead of the game, and try to keep you guessing, because I think that’s part of what’s fun about the entertainment of music. Music for me in an escapist trip. It’s about how you can get away from your real life for a second, not go deeper into it.’

Homme agrees life has definitely grown for the band since the release of SFTD. ‘But I think they’ve grown in a way that’s respectful to what we are y’know? We’re not a new band and we’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think that’s part of the factor, that we’ve been doing our thing for years.’

It’s not surprising to hear more people have been going back and discovering Kyuss since the success of Queens. ‘Yeah, there’s been quite a bit of that, actually,’ says Homme. ‘And I think that’s a good thing because Kyuss is something that’s almost like a people’s band now. We don’t maintain it, but the people who are really into the band do. They make shirts and hats, not to sell for big dollars, they make them for themselves, and I think that’s really cool.’

Oliveri agrees. ‘Queens is out band and the fans own Kyuss. They’re the ones who hold it precious. I think it’s great it was never a huge thing. I’m proud of it, and Josh is aswell, but it’s not ours anymore, y’know?’

But back to the future. As you read this, the Queens are already on our shores. As are the Foo Fighters. Although Grohl went out on the road with the band in May, he soon had to bow out because of Foo Fighters commitments. While Homme doubts Grohl will make any guest appearance with Queens on the Big Day Out (‘that’s not something we talk about or something we’re intending to do – he’s got his own shows to play and so do we,’ he says), Oliveri thinks differently.

‘Hopefully we’ll get Dave to come up and play a couple of songs on the BDO. I can’t wait to tour with the Fighters there, man, it’s gonna be a blast.’

Grohl or no Grohl, the Queens will be a blast.

Thanks to Lucie for typing this up!

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